Women, Work & the Art of Savoir Faire

My current book is by the delightful Mireille Guiliano, called Women, Work and the Art of Savoir Faire.

As the book description says: ‘This is a book about life, how to make the most of it, how to find your balance when you are working long days and trying to be happy and fulfilled. Mireille Guiliano has written the kind of book she wishes she had been given when starting out in the business world and had at hand along the way. She draws on her own experiences at the forefront of women in business to offer lessons, stories, helpful hints – and even recipes! – that can make the working world a happier and more satisfying part of a well-balanced life. Mireille talks about style, communication skills, risk taking, leadership, etiquette, mentoring, personal relationships and much more, all from a perspective of three decades in business. This book is about helping women (and a few men, peut-etre) feel good about themselves, being challenged and engaged in our working lives, and always looking for pleasure in every single day.’

I’m torn between feeling like Ms Guiliano is a tad smug from time to time (though that could be both her French and American characteristics coming through! I’ve been in the UK long enough to feel a bit suspicious of anyone who isn’t at least a little self-deprecating), and then wanting to buy this book for every working woman I know. The advice she gives, as someone who has worked her way right to the top in a heavily male-dominated industry, is sound, and is about how imbalance between work and life affects the quality of both. Some of her advice is very practical, and I’ll write more about that another time. Some of it seems somewhat old-fashioned (she is, presumably, in her 60s…albeit a foxy 60s!), and yet I can still see the relevance (quick quiz: when you leave the table, where do you leave your napkin?). All of it is suffused with her clear passion for both her work and her life.

Photo: Andrew French

I say ‘working women’ because it does presume that the reason why you’re reading it is because you work, and she is evangelical about the benefit of work for pretty much anyone. I have to say that I am too, so it’s a message that suits me, but I can imagine that someone staying at home to take care of their kids would find little here for her. The author did not have children herself, and so although she is aware of the challenges of balancing it all with children, it’s not something she herself experienced directly. This is not inconsequential. The reason why I have made so little time for myself in recent years is because my children – not my job really – have sucked it all away from me! I spend less time doing my job than I used to, because of my children. I spend less time on myself than I used to, because of my children. And I wouldn’t want to spend any less time with them than I do. So that means I need to figure out how to do less work, and to do what I do more efficiently, in order to find time for myself.

This book is making a small contribution to helping me figure this out, and for that I’ll give it to friends who are in a similar place in their lives.


How is it almost autumn?

We were walking in the park in Cirencester today, when we came across this tree. Ok, it’s beautiful, and ok, it was a lovely day, but still. I was wearing a sweater – a linen sweater, but a sweater nonetheless – and my boots.

We have a week left of our summer holiday before our son goes back to school on Monday. That’s a week without email, without dissertations to comment on, without anyone…other than my children…making demands of me. Hmmm…as my kids are much more demanding than my colleagues or students…

In some ways, I feel like this summer has slipped through my fingers. I don’t feel ready yet for September to be here, and for a whole new academic year to be upon us. I don’t want to dig up our vegetables. I don’t want to put away the garden furniture. I don’t want to put away my fitflops.

Rather than seeing it as time slipping away, though, I could focus on what I’ve managed to do. I’ve travelled. I’ve dipped my feet in a DC fountain with my mom and son in 100 degree heat. I’ve eaten tons of fresh veg from the garden. I’ve spent countless hours playing in the park with the kids. I’ve bbq’d with friends. I’ve sat out in pub gardens. I managed to make it back to the States both for my best friend’s 40th and to say goodbye to someone I loved very much. I’ve got my toes covered in sand at the beach. I’ve eaten many meals outside. I’ve gone for long walks.

I’ve also finished 2 journal articles, won research funding, submitted a special issue of a journal, finished up 2 research projects. Instead of seeing these things as things that have taken away from ‘my summer’, I need to start seeing this all part of the big giant package that has been a lovely and eventful Summer of 2011.

A Spot of Holiday Reading?

As my son is often fond of saying, we have ‘Buyingbookitis’ in our family.

This was my hoard find today from the Oxfam bookshop. I was so good in Waterstones, leaving 3 fantastic books in the 3 for 2 deal on a table, but for the same price, I got all of these. In the olden days (i.e., BC), I probably would’ve taken 3 novels and 3-4 magazines with me for a week away, and I probably would’ve finished the lot. Nowadays (i.e., AC…After Children), I’ll take away my Shape magazine, the book I have half finished (Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö‘s The Locked Room), and one other, likely to be Håkan Nesser‘s Borkmann’s Point. I’ll hopefully come back with both books finished…you never know!


Hallelujah! ‘The Killing’ is back!

**contains spoilers**

The unsurpassable drama, ‘The Killing’ is back on BBC4, which is playing all 20 episodes before series 2 arrives in the autumn sometime. We were gripped by it the first time around, completely sucked into Theis and Pernille’s personal hell. This time around we’re better able to watch for clues that we missed the first time around, subtleties of expression. In episode 1, we didn’t notice the first time around how happy and sensual their relationship was at the beginning. The pleasure of watching two people, with jobs and mortgages and children, show such love and passion for each other. It then makes their terror when Nanna first goes missing that much more poignant, that much more choking. Theis arrives at the site where the police have discovered Nanna’s body, and he screams out, ‘Is that my daughter? Tell me, is that my daughter?’, with Pernille on the end of the phone hearing this. She collapses onto the table with a guttural scream of despair, and I was in floods of tears. The humanity and realism they bring to those roles is phenomenally good, something that the US version doesn’t come close to touching, I’m afraid. Despite the police drama and the political intrigue, this is ultimately a show about a family’s devastating loss, and you are never allowed to forget the dead girl around which the drama unfolds. This is as it should be.

We also noticed this time around how Troels visits his wife’s grave before going back to the office. When we first saw it, we thought it was providing background material to show how this attractive, successful politician has a recent loss with which he’s trying to cope. This time around we know that he’s visiting her grave on the anniversary of her death, after he’s tried to commit suicide with the pain of her loss. It makes his transformation from grieving husband to scheming politician that much more unsettling, rather than simply impressive.

Can’t wait for episode 2 tonight!

Happiness vs. Achievement?

In today’s Guardian, Madeline Bunting writes about ‘Sex and power: why women choose to go missing from top jobs‘.

City workers outside the Bank of England building on Threadneedle Street in the City of London. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

She points out how at the top levels, women are still poorly represented but perhaps this has as much to do with women’s expectations and needs as it does with prejudice or the ‘glass ceiling’. Bunting writes:

Some men and women enjoy juggling and get very good at it, but it requires ferocious organisation, focus and energy. Lots don’t have them, or don’t even want them. I know many women my age who could be among those “missing” at the top; instead of becoming chief executives they’ve worked out a combination of family and work that leaves time for friends, hobbies, voluntary work and exercise. Its priorities map well on to the research literature on happiness; an aspect that perhaps doesn’t get the acknowledgement it deserves.

Ambition has proved hard to combine with the mundane requirements of secure nurturing. The cost is obvious; they don’t get the power or conventional measures of professional success. It’s not letting the sisterhood down but holding on to values of relationships and wellbeing. We’re delighted to see others forging ahead and crashing through the prejudices, but we shiver at the price it might exact in our own lives.

 In many ways, this is where this blog is coming from. I am ambitious at work, very ambitious really, but I also want a family life and a personal life alongside it. When I’m old and grey, I want to look back at a life well-lived, not just a career well achieved. I should be tweeting, blogging about work, working up one of the many journal article ideas I have, but no. I’d rather write this, go for coffee with my family, get ready for our holiday, read a magazine, and enjoy the sunny summer day. And, in the end, I don’t think my career will suffer too badly. I’m senior lecturer in my 30s and will be professor in my early 40s, but I’ll do it on my own terms and in a way that still leaves me with my life.

Cinnamon Donut Muffins

Even though the sun was shining hot this afternoon, I decided to try out this recipe that I got from a friend who found it on the Doodle Bug Kitchen blog.  We had the in-laws over this afternoon, and I think that having something fresh always makes them feel welcome. The kids gobbled them up, and hubby had three. I feel like there’s maybe a bit too much baking soda in them, so would probably replace it with a bit of baking powder possibly. I also only buttered them on top, as the recipe calls for, but my friend did the whole muffin in butter, cinnamon and sugar, and they did look truly decadent. I paired them with fresh watermelon, to cut through some of the indulgence and to make me feel less guilty about giving the kids muffins for supper!